Career Night for Nickeil Alexander-Walker Helps Carry Pelicans in Loss to Clippers

ESPN's Dave Pasch said it best on-air: "Nickeil Alexander-Walker had the best game of his life." The former Hokies star kept New Orleans in the game with the L.A. Clippers until the end.

[Twitter \ @PelicansNBA]

Nickeil-Alexander Walker was always special.

Buzz Williams knew it. His Virginia Tech teammates knew it. The fanbase, media and the rest of the ACC knew it.

The talent of the 22-year old Canadian was on display on Wednesday night as Alexander-Walker set a career-high and led all scorers with 37 points in the L.A. Clippers' 111-106 win.

"He was fabulous offensively tonight," New Orleans head coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He did a great job attacking pick-and-rolls and scoring. ... I think he knew he would have time to be able to find his rhythm."

In his second career start in the NBA, Alexander-Walker delivered. He outscored superstars Kawhi Leonard (28 points) and Paul George (27 points) and was ever-so efficient. He hit 15 of his 23 attempts from the floor, made five of eight from behind the three-point arc and was a perfect two of two from the free throw line.

Even more, he finished with eight rebounds, two shy of a double-double, one assist, one steal and one turnover. Oh, and he scored 26 of his 37 points in the second half, outscoring all players except Leonard in George through just two quarters of play.

"I really can't tell you [what was clicking tonight]," Alexander-Walker said. "I just slowed the game down. Early on, I tried to let it come to me. As the game went on, I was riding its wave."

In a game where the Pelicans were short handed — injuries kept Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe out while Zion Williamson missed the game because of an inconclusive COVID test result — Alexander-Walker shined in his 33 minutes.

The former Hokies guard did it all, from driving into the lane and hitting floaters and layups to spotting up and knocking down three-pointers. He even hit a trey in the face of Leonard, a two-time NBA Champion and a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

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Alexander-Walker was already familiar with a second start high. Over two seasons in Blacksburg, his Hokie best 29 points came against The Citadel, the second game of his collegiate career. He was efficient that night, too, hitting 10 of 16 attempts.

In the other 66 games he played at Tech, he never scored 26 points. He scored 25 in three games — vs. Purdue, Boston College and at Miami — that all resulted in Virginia Tech victories. Averaging 13.5 points per game in his career, he scored at least 20 points in three games in his freshman year and in 12 of 34 games his sophomore year.

The 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Alexander-Walker scored his previous career-high of 29 points in his first career start in the Pelicans' final game in the bubble against Orlando on Aug. 13. He entered Wednesday's game averaging 7.9 points and 14.7 minutes per game.

Alexander-Walker blew that out of the water, though, and as Dave Pasch and Mark Jackson said on the ESPN broadcast, "had the best game of his life."

"Alexander-Walker really kept them in the game," L.A. Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue said. "He made threes, layups and in-between layups. He pretty much got everything he wanted."

The Clippers led by 18 points at halftime, 61-43, but New Orleans wasn't out of it yet. Thanks to 15 points in the third quarter from Alexander-Walker, the Pelicans roared back and trailed 83-71 at the end of the period.

He helped the Pelicans pull within six in the final period too, but his 11 fourth quarter points weren't enough.

Nevertheless, he made a great impression at point guard, a position he played in his final season in Blacksburg when Justin Robinson was injured, and felt comfortable. He found his flow scoring wise and even handled the ball particularly well, committing his lone turnover in the fourth quarter.

"You feel more relaxed when you don't have to worry about when you play," Alexander-Walker said. "I don't feel pressure coming off the bench. ... Starting [the game] let me get into my flow earlier."

With so many absences for the Pelicans, the Clippers keyed in on Brandon Ingram. The former Duke star finished with 22 points (8-19 FG), six rebounds and three assists, though it was the attention he drew from everyone on L.A. that really opened up the floor for Alexander-Walker and the rest of New Orleans.

"With most of our starters out, they knew BI [Brandon Ingram] was the head of the snake," Alexander-Walker said. "Him [Ingram] being so unselfish, not forcing the issue, helped everyone tonight."

Alexander-Walker received plenty of national attention, as one does after dropping 37 points, including from SportsCenter and ESPN.

The performance should be one to remember for Hokie fans as well. It's the second-most points any Virginia Tech basketball player has ever scored in the NBA, just one-point shy of the legendary Dell Curry's 38 points in the Hornets' 1996 season opener against Toronto.

One-point shy. In his second career start.

That's pretty darn good. Then again, so is he.

Comments

Great to see him have a good game in the pros. I wonder if CMY will be able to engage him, even though he didn't coach him. I took my son to the UVA game (at loluva) in his last year, and NAW gave my kid a high-five, it was a pretty special moment. That team was so much fun to watch, and I love what CMY is building. Good article, and good luck to NAW!

I'm just here to sling some legs

He hit a a step back three in Kawhi's face midway through the second half that was absolutely beautiful. Also, pelicans fans are now clamoring for him to have the starting spot over Bledsoe.

Another white bronco? The first one didn't go too far.

Nice. I would love to have a Hokie doing work in the NBA

For real. For the longest time Delaney was the biggest Hokie star in the pros. And he swapped between being a backup in the NBA and an elite player in Europe.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

They'd be better off if they dialed back Ball/Bledoe's minutes and played more of NAW and Redick.

Nickeil-Alexander Walker was always special.

Buzz Williams knew it. His Virginia Tech teammates knew it. The fanbase, media and the rest of the ACC knew it.

I'm going to be honest... I never understood the hype. He averaged 13.5 pts, 4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game at VT. He never scored more than 25 points in a single game. I can't recall a game where he took over and really wowed me - unlike AD, Malcom, Jeff Alan, Erick Green, Zack Leday, Kerry Blackshire, J-Rob - all of whom I can think of multiple games that they just willed their way to an amazing result (albeit, all of these guys, especially the ones from the Seth Greenburg era, also had duds).

Clearly I'm the ignorant one here - a bunch of NBA teams recognized his talent (as well as many college coaches and fans before that) - but I just never saw it in college. What was I missing?

Twitter me

I felt the same way. I knew he was great because all the people who knew what they were talking about said he was, but I didn't (and still don't) have the BBIQ to see it in his game.

What was I missing?

To be fair, in his role at VT he wasn't asked to be the guy because the team around him was full of vets (J-Rob, Hill, etc).

The part of his game that scouts really liked are the little things that translate well to the pro game - his shooting motion was always very good, he puts himself in the right spots, and while he's not a crazy athlete he's a deceptive one that uses his length to his advantage. His advanced stats also were really good in college (things like true shooting & effective field goal percentage), which generally translates well when making the jump to the NBA.

In short, he was a well-rounded player with length, can play effectively off the ball, but still be a secondary playmaker, as well as a solid shooting stroke/form, which is exactly what modern NBA teams value. It would surprise me if he ever becomes a star, but he will be a great role player for years to come. He's the perfect guy to lead an offense with your second unit, but is adaptable enough to stay on the floor with the starters and provide value as a spot-up shooter and help defender.

So basically he's the ideal 6th man?

Twitter me

Pretty much! Although I think as his career progresses he likely won't be eligible for the NBA's 6th man award because I think he'll eventually be a regular starter.

In today's NBA, most stars & starters play the first 8 minutes of the 1st quarter, then the majority of the second unit rotates in to play the next 8 minutes of game time, and typically you see the stars come back in at the 4 minute mark of Q2 to finish the half.

I see NAW's eventual ceiling as the type of starter who will stay in for the entire 1st quarter (foul trouble notwithstanding) and go from role player with the starters as the go-to playmaker/scorer with the second unit. He has the ballhandling skills & vision to be extremely effective against second units.

That's just my assessment, but his adaptability & well-rounded skillset makes him a valuable contributor whether he's on or off-ball.

What is the rationale for keeping your top guys on the floor together and then taking a big step down with the 2nd team rather than spacing out your stars a bit?

Semi-related, I just started playing 2k for the first time and in career mode this happens. I worked my way up to being a starter, but Im always on the court with beal and westbrook where we compete for shots and then we all sit together while the 2nd team gives away our lead because they cant score.

Danny is always open

You have just stumbled onto a great debate in the NBA over staggering, some teams want to raise their ceiling and keep their best players on the court together at all times, they also hope that the 2nd unit without any stars can become a "bench mob" that exceeds the sum of its parts by playing well together uniquely without superstar power, if I remember correctly Scott Brooks when he was in OKC didn't stagger Westbrook and Durant much while Doc Rivers has been staggering Embiid and Simmons a ton this year to keep the floor higher throughout the game.

VT '17

What is the rationale for keeping your top guys on the floor together and then taking a big step down with the 2nd team rather than spacing out your stars a bit?

Some coaches do prefer to do that, but there's a ton of reasons why it doesn't happen as often as you'd expect. Sometimes it's as simple as the top guys have preferences in how their minutes are staggered - for example, I recall several guys going on the record saying that they prefer to come out at the 8 minute mark in Q1 and return at the 4 minute mark in Q2 because the break in between quarters gives them a longer rest period than if they played all of Q1 and only played the last 4 minutes of the half.

In the 82 game regular season, so much of it is about managing minutes and injury prevention. Allowing 2nd team players to get more minutes also allows for faster development, and typically in situations with less pressure.

In the postseason, rotations are often staggered differently to keep your best guys on the court as much as possible.

Imagine being Steve Nash now trying to juggle Kyrie, Durant, and Harden. (Assuming Kyrie even comes back at all). Topped off with the weight of 4 first round draft picks, a second and two players going out to get Harden. Going to be a fun S show to watch.

as a houston resident who passively knows about the rockets and watches every now and again - Im excited about the 8 first round picks and getting rid of harden

Danny is always open

And if the Nets continue to be dreadful, those picks will be even better

In addition to this, lots of great college players have holes in their game, especially scorers. Unless you are going to be the next harden/kobe/etc you're going to need to do the little things. Its why a lot of guys seem to blow up in the D-League but don't make to the NBA, they do t need the D League guys to score points, if they were that good they'd be in the NBA already, its fighting for rebounds and making the effort plays that gets you time on an NBA roster. NAW had that, he had the effort, the athleticism, the everything NBA scouts look for in non-superstar picks

I'll chime in here to say that there aren't really any holes in his game. He's a good secondary ball handler, a good shooter, a lengthy defender, a good athlete, etc. He's someone that can hold his own on defense and on offense, even in a limited role. i agree with the comment above that NAW was good at a lot of the little things that translate well to the pros and would expand that to say a lot of the underlying skill set that translates well -- being in the right place, making the right rotation, seeing the extra pass, so on.

idk if "6th man" is the way to say it, but he could definitely be an elite role player, and those guys get paid in the NBA.

"Why gobble gobble chumps asks such good questions, I will never know." - TheFifthFuller

A couple of things improved his draft status. He hit the gym hard in between freshman and sophomore campaigns. He was young and doughy as a freshman and got lean by second season. He was a much more complete player his sophomore season and had worked on his deficiencies. And, the game came easy to him. I'm only a fan, but you could tell he could get his shot and control the offense when needed.

Lastly, his cousin, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, had outperformed his rookie year with the Clippers. At that point in the draft teams are willing to take flyers on guys. Not that he was not worthy of that draft position, but they were hoping for additional upside.

'95 @UVA, '95 Sugar Bowl, '96 @Miami, '99 flip, '03 v Miami, '05 Bourbon St., '09 Coale, '14 @OSU

I think this is an outstanding and well written article. Like, put it in the paper good

VB born, class of '14

Thank you man, I greatly appreciate the complement.

DC

This is just a hint of what he could do if he wasn't buried on the depth chart. Even not starting, his offensive efficiency is off the charts. Very few players in the NBA average a half point per minute on the floor. Hopefully this continues so it puts the Pelicans in a tough spot regarding their backcourt.

Definitely, half the time it appears that the Pelicans draft and play based on name/hype rather than talent.

Worst case he gets showcased and another team comes calling for his services in a trade

A full Cunna article for a former Hokie player NBA game? TKP coming through with all the basketball content.

Outside it's night time, but inside it's LeDay

I wrote it while wearing my Nickeil Alexander-Walker jersey, too.

DC

I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for the great writeup.